Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius (D) is President Obama's newest nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Providing that there are no vetting or other surprises in the process, she is a certainty for confirmation. The newly-created position of director of White House Office of Health Reform, which advises and reports directly to the President, will be filled by Ann DeParle. Both of these positions were to have been filled by
Senator Tom Daschle who, due to issues with the IRS, did not survive the vetting process. "How many politicians does it take to reform health care?"
President Obama intends to raise/reserve $634 billion through tax increases, program changes and higher Medicare drug discounts from pharmaceutical companies. Some of the program changes include Medicare and Medicaid efficiencies, and I would expect Ms. Sibelius' abilities could address this issue; my concern is how knowledgeable she is concerning health care delivery in the context of efficiency and, does it matter?
Ms. Sibelius will be responsible for 65,000 employees, public health, food safety, scientific research and Medicare/Medicaid program administration; her touted strength is more political and less her credentials of state insurance commissioner and overseer of the state Medicaid program. In addition it appears that she will also have other balls to juggle, e.g., navigating the President's health care budget and changes as well as prioritizing the subjects of health care reform. What will be the defined role of Ms. De Parle? Which will be the "poster child" for health care reform? Will Sibelius and De Parle be a tag team in the ring of health care reform?
Critics are saying that the President is attempting to address too many issues too quickly, that he should address cost containment before addressing health care reform (I agree) and that he should wait for improvements in the economy before addressing health care issues. On the other hand there are those who say that the previous administration has been "closed for business" for the past eight years concerning health care reform, and that somebody needs to do something now. So what do we address first? Access? Cost containment of technology-driven services, electronic medical record (EMR) or pharmaceutical or health insurance costs?
I am impressed that Ms. Sibelius' experience spans Medicaid to the opposite end of the insurance spectrum and that Ms. De Parle ran HCFA during the Clinton Administration. I'm also impressed that President Obama conducted Town Hall Meetings in December 2008 to get public input about the topic of health care reform, and that he invited various politicians, industry representation and advocates and to the White House to get their opinions about health care program. I'm not impressed that there is a profound absence of significant medical representation on the issues of health care reform.
How many politicians does it take to reform health care? Only enough to say with diplomacy to the medical population "We're having a health care reform party, and you're not invited."
About the Author
Dr. Flippin brings a wealth of experience, starting with her long tenure as an attending physician at the Cook County Hospital Emergency Department. She is currently Corporate Compliance and HIPAA Privacy Officer at major Chicago hospital.
She is a keynote speaker focusing on the health care crisis facing corporations today (http://www.flippinonhealth.com/).